Friday, 16 Dec 2016. So yesterday I averaged a pretty paltry 7km/hour, yer? Big hills, torrential rain, muddy roads, you remember… Well, today I averaged 5!
Day 2’s stats: 9 hours 23 minutes travel time. 47 kilometres. Average 5km/h. 1220 metres up. 1177 metres down.
Here’s what happened.
I sleep soundly in my room in the old Portuguese governor’s residence and wake to a beautiful morning and a lovely scene from my balcony, the Maubisse church, perched on the side of a mountain rising out of clouds. Bound down the stairs to the now open café and a standard Timorese breakfast of white bread rolls and strong sugary black coffee.
On my way out of town I pass a very colourful cemetery. They aren’t dull grey in Timor. They are instead almost fluorescent, with the headstones painted green, blue, pink and white.
I’m headed towards the village of Hatu Builico at the foot of Mount Ramelau, East Timor’s highest peak. The road isn’t good and there is another stretch of roadworks. Roadworks = mud. Once you leave the ‘main’ road it’s a good news/ bad news situation. No more mud, yay. Now it’s lose stones, boo. The stones get progressively bigger as you climb up and up the mountain. Check out the photos below. I should have been on my 29er mountain bike! That would have been FUN. Instead, I had to carefully maneuver my way because the flat bar road bike I’m riding, with city type panniers is really, really not meant for this. With so many jolts and jars I knew I’d be extremely fortunate to get out of East Timor without something going wrong. And something did. Today it was the plastic bracket of the front handlebar bag snapping. Fortunately, only part of it, so the bag is still usable carrying minium weight but for the remainder of the day I took it off completely and put it under the ocky strap together with my backpack.
Limited options for lunch, as in I saw just the one shop for hours, the most substantial thing on offer being pot noodles. So be it, but another tingling (MSG related?) sensation across my face as I ate.
Despite the road being terribly slow going, the scenery was impressively beautiful and I had many fun interactions with the people I passed, including a group of children playing by the side of the road.
Alright, so then I get to the turnoff to Letefoho and shortly after the disappearance of a marked road on Google, or Open Maps. A contact I made while planning the trip, an Aussie living in Dili, Matt recommended the route. It took me up and over the mountain range. Fine views until the weather closed in and I was riding amongst the clouds. Traffic had thinned and for the next three hours I passed, and was passed by, no one. There were one or two surprised locals, and a village at the foot of the mountain. I wanted to stay and interact with the kids that greeted me but I was conscious of the time and it was raining so I pressed on, there was more hilly country ahead of me with the worst tracks I had come across yet. Matt hadn’t said the road would be this bad Or maybe he did and I didn’t pay attention. Not sure that I would recommend it, unless you are on a mountain bike with suspension. I felt like my bike had been put though the aging machine in The Princess Bride.
I hadn’t eaten anything other than a mango since the MSG laced noodles, and so at the next bunch of houses I stopped. After sharing my photo album and building some goodwill with stickers for the kids I motioned the universal mime of picking up food and putting it into my mouth. I also pointed at what looked like corn stalks growing in a field. From the elder in the group I got back the universal shake of the hands towards the ground indicating he couldn’t help.
I rode on and made it to Letefoho as it was getting dark. I went to the police station and was told there were no guesthouses in town. Church perhaps? I enquired. Sure. No one at the church but a girl back in town directed me to the seminary. Is that the right word? Lots of young folk from about 16 to 24 hanging out and having a great time, giggling as young folk tend to. They accepted me, gave me a room to myself for the night and fed me. Can I get an amen?